I read Morgan Meis’s article on art in Cleveland. He’s older than me but he’s heard the same Randy Newman song, “burn on great river.” Even though I'm doing the same writer's residency as Meis, I’m going to Northeast Ohio in a profoundly different context from when he went in 2015. I just saw a Whitney Biennial of American art which featured highly politicized content—(I use politics here in the broad sense—the politics of capitalism, of black lives and their representation, of a medium or genre) in a national moment where politics has become anything but business as usual.
About seven months have passed since the election and I recall flying form Texas to New York City on that night to sit in my friend’s Brooklyn apartment with her girlfriend and watch the returns. I wasn’t surprised by the results—I’d just been in Texas after all--but I was shocked in that bodily way that no amount of thinking relieves you from. After that, I heard conversations amongst my coastal friends, “Should I move to rural Pennsylvania?” “Should I become a teacher in Ohio?” I looked forward to my trip to Cleveland with even greater interest and some trepidation.
Meis wrote about Cleveland’s grit and gaul saying “it takes a bit more than the average amount of willfulness to choose Cleveland…” but he also posited that “The danger for art in Cleveland is that there is not enough friction.” I plan my trip wondering how much people really choose a place at all and whether there’s anywhere in our country anymore that’s without a certain amount of friction. Everywhere I go these days feels like a veritable piece of cultural sandpaper—whether it’s an art town in Texas, New York City or rural Vermont. So I’m curious if the lack of critical friction which Meiss refers to is still a relevant critique of the art scene in Cleveland or whether the pervasive tensions of our global and national climate overtake the need for push back from a literary establishment. What I’m saying is, “do you need good critics when you’re making art in a crisis?” But who knows if the people I will speak to see it that way. Maybe they feel like everything’s fine. But I doubt it.